The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation uploaded to YouTube recently an interview with Bernard Schiff, a former colleague of Jordan Peterson’s at the University of Toronto. The clip’s title is: “Is Jordan Peterson Dangerous?” The CBC asked Dr. Schiff on to address this question in part because Dr. Schiff is not only a former colleague but, apparently, a friend of Dr. Peterson’s. In part the CBC asked Dr. Schiff on because he recently published an article titled “I was Jordan Peterson’s Strongest Supporter. Now I Think He’s Dangerous.” The CBC’s interview and Dr. Schiff’s article both are meant as high-minded indictments of Dr. Peterson. Leaving the article aside for the time being, the interview is an object lesson in how the mainstream—the Left as well as, unfortunately, the Right—routinely contorts the character of matters and disingenuously interprets events in order to force reality into its predetermined idea of what reality should be. The irony in this instance is really too much.
Dr. Schiff’s primary argument against Dr. Peterson is not an argument at all. It is what is called an argumentum ad auctoritatem, an argument from authority. He says, in essence, “I’m also a psychologist. I know the man personally. Trust me. His science is bad, and he is dangerous.” Viewers, however, are supposed to take as evidence of Dr. Schiff’s claim a supposed trend in the stances Dr. Peterson has taken in recent months, including a stance he took in a tweet responding to Dr. Schiff’s article. Herein lies the mental sleight of hand that viewers are not supposed to notice and that, perhaps, no one involved in the production of the CBC clip did notice.
To begin with, we must remember that Jordan Peterson was a university professor for several decades before he rose to international prominence. Peterson began his rise to prominence sometime in October or November of 2016. The year is now 2018. We are, in other words, approaching a two year anniversary of sorts, and because Dr. Schiff was not only a colleague but Peterson’s friend, he was in a position to have become aware of Peterson’s ascendance from the very beginning. He did not become aware of Peterson’s public comments just the other week, at any rate.
Since Dr. Schiff has published an article in which he is publicly declaring a radical break with Peterson, we might expect an explanation for Dr. Schiff’s change of heart. In the CBC interview what do we discover about Peterson? What controversial position has he taken that has opened Schiff’s eyes? The CBC interviewer implies that it was a recent quote in which Peterson is supposed to have claimed that our problems with young men require us to use collective social pressure to force women (back?) into roles of sexual submission. Without clarifying whether her implication indeed points to the ground for Dr. Schiff’s break with Dr. Peterson, though, the interviewer moves ahead to the same charge that is almost always lobbed at Peterson: i.e., he is giving a voice and intellectual justification to a veritable army of rightwing extremists. It is this charge to which Dr. Schiff then lends the authority of his name and of his years of association with Dr. Peterson.
Next, the pièce de résistance…
Dr. Schiff has a trans “daughter,” and remember, Dr. Schiff and Dr. Peterson were not only colleagues but friends. (This means, then, that Dr. Peterson has known or has known of Dr. Schiff’s daughter for a long while.) After Dr. Schiff published his article, Dr. Peterson tweeted a link to it, and in several subsequent tweets, he defended himself against Dr. Schiff’s attacks in a rather mild and honorable way. After drawing attention to Dr. Peterson’s much-talked-about use of the phrase “enforced monogamy,” the CBC’s interviewer draws attention to the last of Dr. Peterson’s tweets in response to Dr. Schiff. Peterson wrote: “And, finally. I know Bernie to be an indefatigable advocate for his daughter, who has faced serious health problems. As someone who has been in the same situation I can truly sympathize, and presume only that my reaction to C16 cut too close to the bone.” Consider how the CBC and, indeed, Dr. Schiff next misrepresent Dr. Peterson’s tweet in order to strengthen Dr. Schiff’s claim that we should take his word for it that Peterson is dangerous:
As many people are now aware, Dr. Peterson’s notoriety began with his opposition to a piece of legislation that the Canadian government was entertaining and which it has since passed: i.e., bill C16. Bill C16 attempts to compel Canadian citizens to observe the use of the pronouns of choice of people who identify as some other being than their biological sex would indicate. According to Dr. Peterson, he was against the passage of this bill because it compels free individuals to speak, even in violation of their consciences. His detractors, of course, claim that his real motivation is transphobia.
Now, apart from Dr. Schiff’s daughter being trans, “she” apparently also suffered from some undisclosed physical ailment on an ongoing basis earlier in life. Knowing, however, that religious conservatives and people on the right in general tend to see transgenderism in the guise of mental illness, the CBC and Dr. Schiff use the ambiguity of Dr. Peterson’s reference to an unnamed illness to suggest that he is intentionally leading his supporters to believe that he, Jordan Peterson, sees transgenderism as a mental illness and that, furthermore, it is this mental illness from which Dr. Schiff’s daughter suffers that has clouded Dr. Schiff’s judgment. Dr. Schiff’s charge, then, is not that Dr. Peterson has not explained himself well. It is that he has intentionally employed a clever word game based upon a piece of evidence that is not public knowledge in order to lead his supporters to believe that he is saying one thing while he leaves himself free to claim that he meant another. Schiff’s claim defies common sense though.
Never mind that Peterson has openly discussed that his own daughter has suffered from a physical illness since she was a child—a piece of already public knowledge that clearly points to Peterson’s intent to draw a parallel between his daughter and the undisclosed physical ailment from which Schiff’s daughter suffered. When Dr. Peterson references Dr. Schiff’s daughter’s ailment, he says that she “has faced [emphasis added] serious health problems.” If Dr. Schiff’s daughter is transgendered and if Dr. Peterson is supposed to be suggesting that her transgenderism is the health problem in question, then he should not have said that she “has faced” health problems. As children are supposed to learn in grammar school, that “has faced” is in the present perfect tense. It denotes an action that began in the past and that completed itself before or by the time of the present moment in which it is being discussed. This means that Dr. Peterson is explicitly referring to an illness from which Dr. Schiff’s daughter used to suffer but from which she suffers no more. Unless she has denounced transgenderism, this means that Dr. Peterson cannot have been referring to her transgenderism…unless he is supposed to have meant something other than what he said.
Indeed, for Schiff and the CBC the literal meaning of Peterson’s tweet is not important. It is, rather, to be interpreted in the light of their predetermined conviction that Dr. Peterson is a transphobe with a penchant for prevarication. Because the CBC and Schiff prejudge Peterson a transphobe, they misconstrue his tweet as a covert, transphobic dog whistle. And this is all the more ridiculous because to make their claim, they have to employ against Peterson precisely the tactics that they impute to him.
A little past halfway into the CBC interview, we discover that the actual instance that made Schiff break with Peterson was the very crusade against bill C16 that made Peterson famous in the first place. What Schiff is really saying, then, is that he “supported” Peterson when Peterson was a relatively unknown Canadian academic warning students against the dangers of rightwing extremism but that when Peterson took a public stance against leftwing extremism, he—i.e., Schiff—began to denounce him in his heart. He just waited a year or so to tell the rest of us about it. And that would be fine, but remember, this interview is the consequence of Dr. Schiff’s claim to have broken with Jordan Peterson after having been his “strongest supporter.” Since Peterson has been famous for more than a year now, when a former colleague comes out at the end of that time claiming to have been a supporter, would not a reasonable person suppose that that colleague means that he supported him during his ascendance? Schiff got off the Peterson plane before takeoff, but he is more useful to Peterson’s enemies as a recent convert. They take pains, therefore, to paint his story in this light.
Because the Canadian government went ahead with bill C16, the Left, in a sense, won the battle. However, in the midst of his public crusade against the bill, Peterson acquitted himself so well that he won the public mind concerning the principle of compelled speech. In the long run, this is the more important victory. Because of it, the mainstream media remain undecided and, to some degree, impotent with regards to Peterson. For those in the media who are decided about wishing to defeat his message, Schiff’s greatest value is as an intelligent and reasonable person who could see Peterson’s point in the beginning but who has since come to understand that Peterson’s language is just a rationalizing mask covering over a hate-filled soul. This narrative would allow members of the media who are inclined to agree with Peterson’s earlier point to ignore it on the basis of a newfound discovery that he hoodwinked them. Thus, Schiff is most useful if his denouncement of Peterson looks like it occurred as a result of Peterson’s activities subsequent to the fight over bill C16, and the CBC seeks to obscure the fact that he has never really been on board with Peterson, at least not in the way that is important to the public’s concern with Peterson, until after they have used Schiff to prove Peterson’s supposed extremist bona fides.
This is the truth of our Orwellian media, or at least influential people within it: they convict the opponent of their political agenda of prejudice and covert language games by means of prejudice and covert language games.